What I Did On My Summer Vacation 2008 Part Six – The Smart Car In The Wild
The perfect car for the modern urban driving environment – that counts as the trunk, huh? – This still counts as a Mercedes? – Two Smarts in one space – any color you want, as long as it\’s black – get a free car (some restrictions apply) –
As you would expect, Smart Cars are all over the place in France, mainly in cities. For the modern, urban driving environment, they\’re just about perfect. They\’re small, maneuverable, quick enough, and just big enough for 90% of the tasks that an individual driver has. Think of them as a four-wheeled motorcycle with a roof, rather than a small car, and you get a better idea of the mindset.
In a crowded, city driving environment, they\’re the right tool for a lot of the jobs you face. Most of the time, cars are about personal mobility. Most of the time, it\’s just you, driving in the car, going to your own personal destination. So for a lot of people, a lot of the time, you don\’t need things like back seats, cavernous cargo areas and so on.
Being so small, you can maneuver in and out of traffic with ease in a Smart, you can park it in spots a lot of cars would even think of trying, and the MPG is bound to be quite high.
Until you actually see one of these things on the street, near other cars, you just don\’t realize how small they are. I was able to do an informal measurement with one parked at the curb, and it seemed that with my right hand on the front bumper, the rear bumper was only 10 inches away from my left hand. I know they must be longer, but they seem to be about the size of a kitchen stove.
Of course, what comes in handy for things like zipping around double parked delivery trucks and tucking into bath mat sized parking spots doesn\’t come in so handy when you need to move more than you, a friend and a couple of briefcases. I was checking a Smart out on the street, marveling at how they were able to squeeze all that stuff into the passenger compartment, when my wife remarked, \”that counts as the trunk, huh?\”
She wasn\’t kidding. What passes for the trunk, a miniaturized version of the rear hatch area in a VW Golf, seems to be about two feet by three feet by one foot; you could maybe fit three paper grocery sacks back there. No trips to Ikea for this ride. Picking up some fencing down at the lumber yard is out of the question. I guess what you save in purchase price and fuel costs in going to be partially offset by delivery charges for everything else you buy in your life.
Even though Smarts are tiny, they are, after all, made by Mercedes. Which means they weigh more than you\’d first think, are built more robustly than a bank vault, and have top notch fit and finish for something that costs about what the down payment for a Hummer would be. This still counts as a Mercedes? You bet. Everything makes sense. There\’s no little quirks in switch placement or door handle oddness you see in smaller French cars (OK, French cars of any size). Apart from the diminutive size, there\’s nothing about the car that would be off-putting to your average American driver.
As you would expect, parking the things at a curb is a snap. Normal sized parking spaces seem like runways to these things, and it wasn\’t uncommon to see two Smarts parked within the length of one parking space. It almost seemed like they\’re doing it to flaunt they\’re practicality.
In a very un-Mercedes like move, Smarts seem to be available in a rainbow of fanciful colors. You see them in robin\’s egg blue and bright pink and punk rocker\’s hair magenta. Or to be more accurate, you see about half of them in various bright shades. The other half are always gloss black. It seem like Smart owners are divided into two groups: those that have said, \’it\’s cheap, why not have some fun with it?\’ and those that say, \’it\’s just basic, simple transportation, I\’ll take black.\’
Of course, if you\’re really really thrifty, there are other options for the aspiring French Smart driver. I didn\’t get the details, but supposedly there are fleets of Smarts owned by ad agencies in Paris. You can, if you aren\’t very picky about things like color and graphics, get a Smart for FREE if you live in Paris – but as the man said some restrictions apply.
In this case, you get a Smart that is covered in some sort of loud graphics or advertising package. There seems to be no one product they\’re pushing. I saw Smarts advertising headache pills and paint stores and video games … it all seemed to be random.
From what I heard, the prospective owner looking for a free Smart has no choice in the matter, and the graphics you get splattered all over your car is completely random. Relatives of the friends we were staying with France went to check the deal out for their son (the son having a new driver\’s license burning in his hip pocket). Supposedly, they guy at the ad agency/Smart dealership said, \’Yeah. The next one up for grabs is that one right over there.\’
They turned and looked and saw a bright pink Smart car emblazoned with the logos of Frances best selling tampon.
The kid, although folded in half with desire for teen mobility, had his limits and nixed the deal.